Guaranteed competence

Total Rail Solutions is a proven leader in the road-rail plant hire industry thanks to the continual expansion of its fleet and service offering. Following the completion of a management buy-out in November, we interview Paul Bateman, CEO, to find out the secret to their success and what lies ahead for the future

The management buyout that was officially announced in November 2018 started a new chapter in the life of Total Rail Solutions (TRS). In the first 11 years of its operation, TRS grew from a TRS 152 bconsultancy business with an annual turnover of £200,000 to a leading on-track plant hire and Plant Operations Scheme (POS) provider, turning over around £30 million.

Aggressive investment since 2014 has been credited as the main reason for the company’s meteoric rise. As Paul Bateman, CEO, comments: “In 2014, with CP5 on the horizon, the business’ then owners committed to an investment plan that allowed us to significantly expand our fleet. Critically, this investment was focused on purchasing machines that were the best fit to meet the requirements of the industry, which, at the time, were based on electrification works. In the following four years, we spent a total of £15 million on our road-rail vehicle (RRV) fleet and supporting equipment, which has resulted in us currently having the industry’s most reliable and flexible fleet profile, with 80 per cent of this equipment being under three years old.”

Keen on creating an exceptional customer service experience, TRS also realised that it needed to up its support services, too. “In 2017, we increased our in-house transport fleet by 60 per cent with the procurement of articulated lorries, low loaders, rigid hiabs, and flat-bed vehicles, which means that now, our transport service can carry out over 70 per cent of equipment deliveries in-house,” Paul points out.

Also in 2017, the company upgraded its van fleet with 120 brand-new Ford Connects, Couriers, and Transits to expand the capabilities of its operations and maintenance teams. “In addition, we also launched a new online ordering system, which enables customers to quickly and conveniently place their orders for increased efficiency and accuracy. All of these initiatives have helped us to improve the reliability of our services significantly,” Paul continues.

TRS has built its business on three operational enablers – its people, plant, and processes – and by investing heavily in these, it has been able to stay flexible, cost-efficient, and safe in everything it does. “Investment in the right plant has been key to the successful growth of our business. Every machine we invest in, is a result of a strategic decision driven by our customers, their projects, and the rail network’s future plans. We have been able to grow our fleet, largely thanks to our involvement in some very large programmes. For example, we have taken part in the electrification works for the Crossrail West Outer project, during which we were required to supply a range of excavators first, and then, full POS services. This has enabled us to evolve our equipment, which, in turn, has given us a clear advantage in the industry. Quite often, we are also getting personally involved in the design of our new machinery to make sure that it really solves existing problems.

“As of late, we have also increased our workforce by 20 per cent, whilst maintaining our commitment to our behavioural safety strategy of ‘Destination Total Safety’. We also believe that it is important to train and upskill our staff, as we want them to have the competencies and knowledge for every job they undertake. As a consequence, we have one of the highest employee retention rates in the industry,” Paul remarks.

Throughout its existence, TRS has developed expertise in various areas – something that has been recognised by Network Rail and its principal contractors who have trusted the provider with critical tasks on some of the most prestigious Network Rail, Crossrail, and London Underground projects. The company’s core business remains the provision of on-track plant hire and POS services, such as on-track plant planning, delivery, and site management, but recently, it has expanded its offering to include contracting civils work and labour provisions. “We listened closely to the requirements of our customers who were telling us that a supply of high-quality labour was difficult to find. Therefore, we started providing them with access to a skilled and reliable workforce for a wide range of initiatives,” Paul explains. “We also provide project delivery teams for a variety of civils programmes – for example, earthworks and drainage schemes, platform alterations, and minor works. We are currently supporting AMCO as part of their platform-upgrade projects at ten railway stations across Wiltshire and Gloucestershire.”TRS 152 c

TRS has been working on projects across South Wales long enough for the company to justify the opening of a new depot in the region – in Cwmbran, near Newport. “For instance, we have been involved in the Bristol-Cardiff line electrification programme, supporting a number of new and existing clients,”

Paul notes. “It certainly makes sense to have a presence in a region where there is a commitment to long-term investment in rail infrastructure and we see our new depot as the next step to expanding our business, in line with the growth of the Wales & Borders rail franchise.”

In November, following a very successful year, TRS announced that a management buyout backed by Rutland Partners LLP had been successfully implemented, with new owners replacing the founders of TRS. Paul comments: “The previous owners expressed a desire to leave the industry, while the existing young and dynamic management team, who has been running the business for three years now, was more than ready to take on this opportunity. Going forward we will be focusing on re-shaping the business to improve efficiency and scalability as we continue to grow our operations.”

Talking about 2019, Paul sees next year as a period of transition, moving from the completion of CP5 into CP6, and this can pose certain challenges for contractors such as TRS. “When you look at CP6, it seems ripe with opportunities, as £48 billion is projected to be spent throughout its duration. We’re obviously keen to understand how our offering can fit into these large schemes, however experience has taught us that usually the first year of a new CP can be a quiet period. The following four years, however, will be the time when most of the work will be done.

Paul’s vision for the future is an ambitious one: “Thinking of our long-term prospects, we are excited about the volume of work that we’re expecting to come our way, because it really is a good time to be working in the rail industry. We are among the top five providers in our sector and we certainly want to continue being seen as a leading business that is constantly looking to introduce new innovative practices to our field.”